Early 2014 TV Season: The Same Thing… Only Different!

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Greetings all and sundry!

After putting the Holiday and New Year season safely behind. I’ve taken some time to settle in behind the television to enjoy and occasionally dissect the latest offerings of the major stations.

Any decent dissection is the natural offshoot of an in depth comparison and analysis in order to find a common thread or theme. And one doesn’t have to travel far to find one or more in the:

Early 2014 TV Season: The Same Thing… Only Different!

With the exceptional BBC mini-series, Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch as the latest incarnation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s master sleuth knee deep in modernized crimes and dramas. Backed up by Royal Army medical Corp and Afghan veteran, John Watson. Played with low keyed and occasional comic relief by Martin Freeman.

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The series basks in wondrously deft contemporary writing. With previous mysteries brought anew as only the British can. Adding such modern trappings as texts, tweets, laptops and social media to the mix. Saving time on screen for deeper character development and longer, more subtle interviews of witnesses and suspects than on this side of the pond.

Which became the impetus for two series from CBS. Person of Interest and Elementary. The former sports the criminally under rated, James Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ, The Thin Red Line, Deja Vu) as former Army Special Ops guy, John Reese. Who is the very versatile dagger to the local cloak and Brainiac, Harold Finch. Marvelously quirky and eccentric Michael Emerson (Lost, The Return of the Dark Knight). Who may or may not have created the first generation of computers that knows all. Sees all. And may or may not be used for NSA surveillance today.

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The computer spits out Social Security Numbers of random individuals which are deemed in dangers. And Resse, Finch and killed off way to soon, NYPD detective, Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson) and her partner, Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman). In a series which has managed to recreate the best parts of  a previous 1980s classic, The Equalizer. With Edward Woodward protecting the endangered and down trodden of Manhattan.

While Elementary boasts Johnny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Hackers, Mindhunters) as recovering drug addict and former London Metropolitan Police Consulting Detective, Sherlock Holmes. Transplanted in Manhattan and in the employ of a precinct’s major Crimes Unit, run by Captain Thomas Gregson (Perpetual cop, Aidan Quinn), Detective Marcus Bell ( Newcomer Jon Michael Hill showing lots of potential) and Dr. Joan Watson, Lucy Liu. Holmes’ recovery therapist and shrink .

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The stories are well written for the 45 to 48 minute time constraints per episode. The bad guys are almost uniformly bad. With no connections to Doyle’s short stories, novels and novellas. Entwined in plots that often take a hop to left field, but are nicely reeled in before the final minutes. Though what is slowly becoming a hallmark of the series is the rapid and often offbeat repartee between Holmes and Watson when unearthing clues or comparing notes in search of a lead. And occasional quips from Detective Bell are worth their weight in gold.

Taking us further down the line in our search for subtle and not so subtle similarities between two new contenders. Fox’s Almost Human and Intelligence from CBS. Where the former pits rough hewn Karl Urban (Doom, Star Trek, RED, Dredd, Riddick) in L.A.’s the not too distant future. As Detective John Kennex. Sole survivor of an ambush and recipient of a replacement leg. Teamed up with an older, close to obsolete android named Dorian, after his model series, DRN. Cleverly played by Michael Ealy (Fast Forward, The Good Wife). Basically a walking, talking, multilingual Crime Lab.

Aided by a phalanx of rigid, polysyllabic robot uniform cops (Think the faceless robot cops of ‘TXH 1138’ multiplied en masse)  who do not possess a good batting average in survival after annoying Kennex with their incessant legalese yammering.

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In a series that shows ever evolving technology and its possible implications in countering systems (GPS, Facial Identification, hacking social media) used by police today. Also a decent amount of well executed Special Effects in regards to a crowded city scape, sidewalks and very cool looking drones.

Solid character acting sets the foundation. Buttressed with clever plots, well thought out and executed effects that live up to the future. Where programmable bullets that never miss, organ harvesting, more human looking and feeling Sex Bots and social media murder are the norm. Instead of the exception.

Which brings us to a less than spectacular offering from CBS. Intelligence. Which can trace its lineage back to the 1970s and two pilot made for TV movies, Probe, from NBC, which later evolved into a short lived series, Search. And a pilot movie and series from ABC titled, The Delphi Bureau.

The Delphi Bureau could be considered the first creaky prototype and great grandfather of Intelligence. Where a federal bureaucracy sent an investigator, glenn Garth Gregory, (Laurence Luckinbill) armed with a photographic memory to find and undo fiendish schemes involving surplus weapons systems and or missing government funding.

While NBC had Hugh O’Brien (Wyatt Earp) investigating conspiracies in Probe and Search. With the aid of a computer link in his Mastoid Sinus that fed audio and visual to an underground computer lab led by Burgess Meredith. Backed up by superior writing from Leslie Stephens. And a bevy of lab coated Tech Babes, Angel Tompkins and Jacklyn Smith included. Amongst blinking lights sets that appeared stolen from ABC’s The Time Tunnel. While countless other young viewers have likened CBS’s crown jewel to the NBC series, Chuck.

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In Intelligence, we have Josh Holloway (Lost) as former Ranger and Sec Ops soldier, Gabriel Vaughan. Who has a computer imbedded and a link to another isolated lab filled with other computers to aid in his feats of world wide derring-do. Protected by Secret Service Agent, Riley Neal (Meghan Ory). With whom Gabriel has no chemistry. And overseen by Marg Helgenberger (‘Species’, ‘CSI’). Who is so much better than the material and is wasted as Lillian Strand. The organization’s stiletto heeled boss.

Whose series’ premise is continuously sending the most expensive and technologically advanced super soldier into harm’s way. With a single Secret Service Agent as back up. And expect to succeed week after week. When any Flag or Field Grade officer at the Pentagon would opt for keeping Gabriel far in the rear. While possibly expending just as well trained and far less expensive, or embarrassing if captured Rangers to perform the dirty work.The series’ concept is flawed. Though it is kind of cool to look as Gabriels walks through previous crime scenes and opaque pop up windows as he searched for hidden answers.
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And for something completely different. There is an offering from Fox that has revealed lots of creepy mood, shadow and mystique. Sleepy Hollow. Which focuses on a recently uninterred and reawakened Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) contending with the mysteries of a modern world. With the aid of police Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) and Capt.Frank Irving (Orlando Jones) as they fight the forces of demonic evil personified by The Headless Horseman.

The series is not as strage as it sounds. With lots of chemistry between Crane and Abbie Mills. Reinforced by exceptional flash back segues and asides that harken back to Highlander in their use of costumes and settings.While backstopped with impeccable guest stars such as Clancy Brown, who pioneered the ground covered before Crane’s arrival. And John Nobel (Fringe, Superman Unbound). Who comes up with spells and traps in the continuing battles of good versus evil.

Overall Consensus:

Sometimes, too much of a good (or not so good) thing can be dull and repetitious. Even more so when a project lacks spirit and chemistry. Not being open to new and imaginative ideas or scenarios. And ways to set them up for execution through the actors’ spoken words.Which speaks directly to writers who lack the style, panache and polish of their predecessors. Not exactly lazy. But very fuzzy and confused over short term and long term goals.
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Of the new series mentioned and critiqued. I’ll put my money on Almost Human. For its self deprecating wit, Castle-esque drive time banter. And Mr. Ealy’s ability to bring programming and computer glitches to life with tremors and quick switches to foreign languages.

Though, I’ve little doubt that Intelligence will get at least another season on Marg Helgenberger‘s name alone.


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Thoughts on 2014 TV season so far? Which show(s) are YOUR favorite?